Guess what is not found in the Bible

Some years ago, while in my first pastorate, I made a statement to Mary Jo that I thought was highly intelligent and clever, but was quickly made to realize that it was very shortsighted and minimizing. I said, “Being a pastor isn’t what I do, it’s who I am.” Her immediate response showed me the shortsightedness and the minimizing effect of the statement. She said, “Where in that does you being a husband and a father fit?

She spoke very wise words to me that day. I was limiting my identity to just one aspect, making being a pastor the whole of my identity and everything else just something added on if I chose to add it on.

I bring up this personal experience for this reason: the same thing has happened to the assembly of Jesus. What is the word the vast majority of people use as the name and identity of the assembly, whether global or local? Church.

Did you realize that the word “church” never appears in the New Testament? According to the Oxford Dictionary, the origin of “church” is found in the Greek word kurikon which is from the Greek word kuriakon which means “a house of a lord.” Both of these words are not found in any of the writings in the New Testament. The word used is ekklesia which means, “the called-forth ones.”

Now, if you have any knowledge of the different images in the New Testament used to describe the assembly of the followers of Jesus, you might just be saying, “Wait a minute. The assembly is pictured as a building or a temple in the New Testament. So having the assembly be known as church is accurate.”

But here is where my personal experience from above comes into play. The assembly pictured as a building/temple is only one picture. There are other pictures such as a body and a community. And just like I was wrong to make my identity hang on one aspect, I also believe it wrong to use one picture of the assembly to be the name of identification for it.

Now, you might be saying, “What’s the big deal?” Well, here’s the big deal. I believe that the use of the building image as the identifying name of the assembly has caused damage and confusion to the true identity of the assembly. As a building, the assembly is rigid, immovable, and inflexible. If that becomes the identity, what is the result? The assembly becomes rigid, immovable, and inflexible in inappropriate ways.

Just like God never intended to have a physical temple built for Him (that was King David’s idea. God was good with a mobile tent) so that people had to come to Him instead of Him moving with and being with the people, God never intended for His assembly to be something to which people had to come. How many this past week made this statement: “I’m going to church on Sunday?” Because of the building analogy becoming the identity as well as the permanence of the building analogy being misapplied, people now have in their minds that the assembly of believers is something to which they go and from which they depart. If you can go to something, you also are able to leave that same thing. This has caused a compartmentalization in the minds of many, wrongly so.

Because many see the assembly through this image, the permanence of a building has caused assemblies to lag behind what is happening in the culture. It’s why assemblies struggle with connecting the gospel with a changing world. They are stuck in ways and things that were effective in a world that no longer exists, refusing to change, adjust, and seek innovative and different ways of and for doing things. It doesn’t mean that those ways of doing things back then were wrong for, if they worked, they were right. What it does mean is that they are not necessarily right for today. This is why so many in the world today level the charge of irrelevance against the assembly, and they would be accurate. All because of making the view of the assembly as building or church its identity.

What is the battle cry of so many assemblies? “We’ve never done it that way before.” Welcome to the effect of having “church” as the identity of the assembly. It has turned into something that I don’t believe God ever intended.

I could go on about this, but I won’t. What I will do is give you the link to my sermon series titled “Images of the Gathering” which speaks to all of this.

I will end with this: we are assembly for we are the “called-forth” ones in the world today, and that is so so much more than just “church.” And when we call ourselves “church,” we do ourselves and God a great disservice.

Advertisements

If you weren’t a Christian, would you today declare, “Jesus is Lord,” if it meant being immediately arrested for treason?

If you weren’t a Christian, would you today declare, “Jesus is Lord,” if it meant being immediately arrested for treason?

There is something that the Apostle Paul said in one of his letters that, when he wrote said letter, was radical to state given what he was saying within the culture and laws of the time, but in today’s world, is not anywhere near as radical.

What did he say?

Romans 10:8b-9 – “This is the spoken word of the faith which we proclaim. If someone should confess with one’s mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in one’s heart that God has raised him from the dead, that one shall be saved.”

How has this become no longer radical like it was when Paul wrote it? In order to understand how, we must understand the implications of Paul’s statement within the culture and laws of the day. The law of the Roman empire was that allegiance was sworn to Caesar and he was lord, and only him. To declare another as lord was tantamount to treason, a crime worthy of death. But Paul says doing exactly this is the first requirement for entry into the new assembly that God created on Jesus as the Christ and the revelation of him as such. And this confession, this declaration, was not to be done in private; it was a public confession and, as such, a great and deep commitment had to accompany that confession.

This really came home for me this past week as I studied in preparation for yesterday’s sermon, “What’s in a Name?” This new assembly (I will not call it by one of its descriptive words – “church”) was made up of “called-forth ones.” These were individuals who were called forth by God and made the declaration of Jesus as Lord. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 declares that the only way one is truly able to declare, “Jesus is Lord,” is by the Holy Spirit. So, because of this, Paul, in proclaiming with his mouth the gospel of the kingdom, was advocating treason against the Roman empire. So, this was not a “wishy-washy” commitment. One’s life was potentially on the line here.

The other part (“believe in one’s heart that God has raised him from the dead”) was also radical. Not only would one be declaring treason against the Roman empire, one could be considered insane for believing that a person actually came back to life after being dead for three days. Think about it; if someone were to tell you that s/he saw a friend or relative of their’s walking around three days after death, we’d be seriously thinking that that person had lost it and wasn’t dealing well with the grief of the situation. Right?

So, not only was person making a treasonous statement (“Jesus is Lord”), but the impetus and basis for said declaration was something that could be considered insane. Talk about radical upon radical. Hence the reason why Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 states that if Jesus has not been resurrected, those who have declared Jesus as Lord as the most foolish of all people.

And because of the high potential of such a statement resulting in deprivation of possessions, liberty, and/or life itself, there was no room for lukewarm commitment. It was either all in or not at all.

I often wonder how commitment in today’s assembly compares to that of the 1st century assembly.

I am a pastor, a trainer and equipper of ministers

I believe the words we use are very important because those words speak to something that is lying underneath, like a attitude or perspective, that, though not realized, impacts how we think and act in real life situations. For example, if I were to conduct a survey about the word “church,” how many would say that the first thing that comes to their mind when they think of “church” is a building, not a group of people or a faith community? And how much has that reality impacted how a building is venerated? There have been too numerous to count times where I’ve had someone tell me that if they walked into a church (meaning the building), it would fall down on them for some reason. That tells me that the common view of “church” of many is that it is a building. And that has caused the building to become a focal point, rather than the real and true church, which is the people gathered in a faith community.

There is another one which has really come into focus for me as of late: pastor vs. minister. These two words have often become interchangeable for many; they have become synonyms. But are they truly? Is there a biblical difference between what a pastor is to be doing and what a minister is to be doing? And has the merging of the two caused an incorrect perception and reality?

I will not call myself a minister. A minister is one who tends to the needs of the body (a local church) for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. The common paradigm, though, in the church of today is that this is what a pastor is to do when, in reality and from Scripture, it is the job of those who make up the body. There has been a detrimental outcome to this common paradigm. There are many who have a consumerist mentality when it comes to the church and the pastor. What I mean by that is that the attitude is that the pastor was hired to do the ministry of the church so that those who make up the church don’t have to. They can do other things they want to do. And if the pastor isn’t ministering to them as effectively or as often as they think s/he should be, well, it’s time for a new pastor.  Under this attitude, the pastor is nothing better than a lackey whose job it is to service the church.

The result of this common paradigm is that the overall church gets weak.  It’s just like doing physical workouts to stay in shape.  What would happen to one’s legs if a person only exercises the arms and chest and back?  S/he be pretty fit from the waist up, but from the waist down, pretty weak, due to the lack of exercise with the legs.

So, what is the biblical role of the pastor in the church?  Paul is very specific about it.  A pastor is to be a trainer and equip those who make up the church to carry out the work of ministry for the building up of the body.  He says this in Ephesians 4:11-16: “And indeed, he gave apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints unto the work of ministry unto the building up of the body of Christ, until we all shall have attained unto the unity of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fully grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we no longer will be infants, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of teaching in the cunning of men, in craftiness with a view to a system of error, but confessing the truth, we may in love grow up unto Him in all things, who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body is being joined and held together through every supporting joint according to the energy in the measure of each individual part, causing the growth of the body unto the building up of itself in love.” 

So, a pastor’s job is to equip, to train, the people so that they can carry out the work of the ministry. The word translated “ministry” is the word from which we get our English word, “deacon.” The pastor is to train and equip the people so that through their carrying out of the ministry the body is built up and grows in love unto maturity.

What would people say if a teacher in school did all of the students’ homework? They would say things like, “That’s not right” and “How will students learn?” if the teacher does the homework.  And they’d be correct. But that is very often what the approach and attitude is of what the pastor’s biblical role is, if the people see him/her as the one who is to see to the needs of the body.

When that is the case, the body becomes passive, just receiving, while rarely being active and actually ministering to others in the body. When that happens, a person’s significance in the body becomes negligible. No longer is there any type of value placed on being actively connected to the body. And when that value disappears, those people put their focus, energy, and time elsewhere.

And that’s why I truly believe that many in the two youngest adult generations have left the church in droves. They want to be significant. They want to make a difference. They want to be important to the health of something. But when the paradigm in the church is that it is the pastor who does the actual ministry of tending to the needs of the body and building it up, they haven’t found significance in being an active part of that church so they go elsewhere to other things where they hope to find it. And in my heart, I just cannot blame them.

So what happens when the expectation is that it is the pastor who will tend to the needs of the body? Those who want to be actively involved in significant ministry in and to the body go elsewhere, taking their energy and life with them. And that starts a march down a path that only leads to death. And there are many churches in the USA which are on that path.

How will that reality be changed? I believe it can only be changed by a changed perception and attitude of what the role of the pastor is. If the pastor is freed up to carry out his/her role of training and equipping the people for the carrying out of ministry and then frees them and empowers them to do so without coming along after them and just redoing what they have already done (because if it were me and the one who trained and equipped me came along after me doing again what I had just done, I’d quit doing it), then once again people will become active and find high value and significance in it because they are making a real difference and make being connected to the body a high priority. When this becomes not only the attitude, perspective, and paradigm, but also the reality, those who make up the body will once again be engaged, will be active, and will find significance in being an active member of the body.

But until then, the march toward death continues.

I am a pastor.